UK: Satellite Dishes - A Human Right?

Last Updated: 15 November 2011
Article by Robert Highmore


A 2008 ruling of the European Court of Human Rights ("the ECtHR") has found Sweden to be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights ("the Convention") for upholding a landlord's right to take court action forcing a tenant to remove a satellite dish, thus suggesting that tenants may have a human right to information and news even if it can only be received via a satellite dish.

This decision is, however, not binding on the UK courts although it should be taken into account. It is unlikely to mean that any tenant who wishes can install a satellite dish regardless of the services already supplied by the landlord or the character of the building in which they live.


The Swedish case of Khursid Mustafa & Tarzibachi v Sweden involved Iraqi tenants of a flat belonging to commercial landlords. In breach of the landlord's rules, the tenants erected a satellite dish on the outside of their flat. The landlord attempted to evict the tenants following the breach, and both the local rent tribunal and the appeal court upheld the landlord's case.

The ECtHR ruled that the Swedish courts were in breach of Article 10 of the Convention (right to freedom of expression) as the tenants and their children could only maintain contact with their ethnic language and culture via satellite TV broadcasts which were not available through the aerial provided by the landlord. The landlord (and the Swedish government) argued that the tenancy agreement should be upheld because of safety and aesthetic considerations, along with the fact that any coherent set of tenancy rules would be undermined if not enforced.

In this particular case it was found that the satellite dish did not form any sort of safety hazard, and that aesthetic considerations did not apply as the flat was in a block of no architectural merit. When the tenants' rights under Article 10 were balanced against the aesthetic considerations it was found that the tenants' rights should prevail. It was also a factor for the judgment that the landlord had not made other provision (such as internet access or broadband) for such broadcasts to be received.

How does this apply to the UK?

The decision in the ECtHR does not mean that everyone now has a human right to have a satellite dish. Decisions in the ECtHR are not binding on the UK courts, although they must take them into account.

It has been suggested that this case may mean that a satellite dish could be erected on any building, whether or not they were listed. This is unlikely to be the case: the ECtHR specifically found that the block of flats in Sweden had little architectural merit, but this would obviously not be the case for a listed building. It will be important to balance the rights of the tenant with the aesthetic considerations and the services already supplied by the landlord if a similar case comes up in the UK courts.

Guidance given by the Equality and Human Rights Commission ("the Commission") suggests that landlords will have to consider each case on its own merits. The example which the Commission gives is that of a disabled tenant who "is only able to engage in her particular religious community if she is able to receive transmissions of specific religious services held overseas which are exclusively available by satellite", and states that in such a situation the landlord may have to agree to the installation of a satellite dish. This is clearly a very unusual situation however, and if the landlord were able to offer some alternative way in which such transmissions could be received, there would be no breach of the Convention.

It is more likely that the decision could be used to challenge provisions in tenancy agreements or long leases which ban satellite dishes entirely. Long leasehold ownership is often seen as equivalent to buying the property, and it may therefore be that the ECtHR thinks that it is less appropriate for the landlord to interfere with the tenant. If the landlord were prepared to offer a sufficiently wide range of satellite services covering even minority religions and languages however, it seems likely that the landlord could maintain an absolute ban on tenants' own satellite dishes.

It is also the case that within England and Wales the area demised to the tenant under a long lease usually ends at the inner surface of the external walls. If a tenant were to put a satellite dish on the external wall without the consent of the landlord therefore, they are likely to be committing a trespass upon the landlord's land, or even to the landlord's airspace.


The decision of the ECtHR in Khursid Mustafa does not mean that every tenant in England has a human right to have a satellite dish.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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